Today’s article is focused on Product Launch and Messaging. As a guide to the conversation, download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017. Turn to pages 143 – 146 of the PDF to follow along.
Why this topic? Product launches fail to generate revenue when sales people and channel partners are not involved in messaging development during pre-launch preparations. When messaging is developed in isolation it is not compelling enough to get your customers to act. Stories told directly to customers by well-trained sales channels enable customers and prospects to answer “Why change?” and this stimulates latent demand while leading to exceptional revenue growth.
I recently interviewed Intuit’s Vice President of U.S. Sales and Channel Marketing, Rob Lips. Rob lead sales, channel marketing and analytics across Intuit’s retail, e-tail, inside sales, resellers, OEMs and financial Institutions. He is responsible for a +$900M business with a team of over 500 people.
Rob is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic, and below you will find the questions and answers from our discussion.
How do you enable your sales people to bring to light the real-life problems your customers are looking to solve?
We sell mostly to small business and mostly through telesales. We have a 4-step sales process that all our consultants use. After the first step of introducing themselves and understanding who they’re talking to they go into an inquiry mode where they try to really understand the customer’s small business. Call it a day in the life of our small business owner and through that discussion and using a lot of inquiry and open-ended questions they understand the needs and the problems that the small business is facing. Once you understand your problems then it can help you go to the next step of recommending the right solution of products and services to meet those needs and solve those problems.
How do you involve the sales people in the product launch message development and story creation? Do you ask the sales people? Do you get their input when you’re getting ready to launch something new about messaging?
Yeah, in high tech I think if you go back a decade ago a lot of times products were built and then thrown over the fence and the marketing and sales team had to figure out how to sell it, making up their messaging, making up their marketing. That didn’t work that well and Intuit realized that and so we have a close partnership between the sales, the product management, and the marketing organization. There’s 2 key ways that we make sure we get that input before product launch.
First, we have a sales council and that’s made up with managers and some of the front-line sales consultants and they get on a call regularly with the marketing and product management team and talk through what they’re learning directly from the customers as they’re going through the sales process. As we move into new product launches, the product management team and the marketing team will share that with the sales council and get feedback. That’s one way.
The second way is that we do joint sales calls. The marketing and the product management team will come out to our call centers and listen in to calls, or if we’re going into the customer’s business they’ll go along and we call those follow-me-homes. They’ll spend time with the small business listening to the sales conversation. Those 2 approaches, the council and then the joint sales calls really make sure that we are all aligned on what the right positioning and messaging is for our new product launch.
Greg Response: I agree with you 100 percent. The reason why I’m pigeonholing us today into product launches, we just came out with our new research. Every year we publish a research report. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. It’s meant to capture the emerging best practices of the top 10 percent of growth leaders, sales and marketing leaders that consistently hit the number.
One of the areas that came up this year is there was an unusually high number of failed product launches. More so than in years past and quite a bit more so than past years. When we dug into possible root causes for that there was a messaging problem, and where that did happen it usually occurred when they didn’t have a sales council. There was no relationship between sales, product, and marketing. You’re 100% correct, and tech companies are spending millions on new product and if it flops it’s expensive.
Is the messaging you provide your sales team the same messaging they provide the customer, or is it different?
Yes, it is the same. We work with the marketing team to ensure the messaging that we train our sales consultation on is the same messaging that they’re using in outbound marketing, paper clip, banner ads, television, whatever it may be. That said, often as the sales team starts to sell the product and talk to customers they will find new and different ways to position the features, position the benefits and adjust the messaging to get to a better close rate. That’s fine if it’s staying consistent with the higher-level brand strategy. What’s important at that point is that we circle back with the marketing team and say, “Hey, we’ve been selling this product for X number of weeks, months, and these 2 messages are really resonating but this third message, that’s not working and as we’ve talked to customers we found out that we have this new message around saving time, for example, that really resonates with the end user and we’d suggest that you might want to go include that into your messaging brief.”
We start on the same message but I would say that it evolves over time through that relationship, that back and forth.
Greg response: The concept of stay on message, stay consistent to the brand message I love. We see so often what we call message distortion. You come up with this great message. It’s done through these means that you’re talking about. It gets to the sales team and the sales team can modify it, think on their feet, be in the moment depending on the sales cycle and the customers that they’re dealing with. That’s great because it’s probably better for the customer to do it that way.
The problem with that though is if you’re not careful you can wake up with 25 different messages. How do you prevent message distortion?
Start with identifying your higher-level brand strategy? What are the benefits that you’re promising the customer? If you’re saying, “Hey, I’m all about saving you time and getting you better cash flow.” Whatever the sales team is doing must ladder back to that. There’s ten different ways you can tell someone that they’re going to save time. There’s ten different ways you can tell someone that they’re going to get better cash flows. You can use different data points, different features of the product to make them believe that depending on the unique needs of the customer.
If the sales team starts going off brand strategy and say, talking to them about how they’re going to get more new customers, against this is small businesses, and that’s not a benefit that we are trying to build the product to deliver or it’s not a core message, then that’s when I think you get to message distortion and that’s where my front line leaders, who sit with the sales team and listen to their sales calls, would bring them back in and say, “Hey, you’re off strategy, even though it might sell you a couple extra deals, it might close some deals, you’re off strategy and you need to pull that back.”
Greg Response: Many of you listening to this are carrying a big number tied to new products just launched or soon to be launched. Compelling messaging is mission critical. Without it sales people will struggle selling the new product. This is the reason why we’re talking about this today.
Rob, here I’m going to get into this growing best practices, the idea of storytelling. There’s other words for it but this is the concept of connecting with customers and buyers emotionally as opposed to logic through the power of storytelling. Are you guys experimenting with that at all?
Yes, and it’s going well. I talked earlier about a big part of our sales process is to talk to the customer and understand their needs and the problems they’re facing as a small business owner and we do that so that we can then make a recommendation to them on the right solution, the right products and services to meet their needs. We often use storytelling about other small business that were in similar situations to bring it to life and give it more credibility.
Talking about another small business that was frustrated and how much time they were wasting doing accounting versus taking care of their customers and focusing on growing their business. That allows the person who’s on the other end of the conversation to say, “I relate to that.” Then to go to the next step of telling them, “Hey, this person when they started using QuickBooks, when they started using our product, they freed up hours and hours of time so that they could go back and focus on what they really love which is running their business.” That’s inspirational and its often motivating for them to make the decision and pull the trigger.
Greg Response: We’ve seen some great results from embracing storytelling, particularly Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. For those that are listening or watching you might do some Google searching around Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and again, it’s around connecting with buyers on an emotional level. We need to remind ourselves that people buy an emotion, justify with logic and stories is the way that human beings connect with each other via emotions. The reason for all of this, and I’m going to skip ahead here a little bit, is we need to defeat the status quo.
We have found, and I don’t know if this is the case for you Rob but I’d like to hear your perspective on it, is that yes you have competitors but the biggest competitor by far is a resistance to change and just sticking with the status quo. Have you seen that in your stories that you tell about other Intuit customers? Is it designed to defeat the status quo?
It is. I think a lot of people realize that changing what they’re doing today is necessary but they worry about how hard it’s going to be, the cost of it, their chance of success. If you can tell them a story about somebody else who was in a similar situation and took the plunge, used your products and services to try to get to a better outcome and was successful, that’s going to give them more confidence that they should as well. We really focus on the benefits of ease, the east of changing from what they’re using today to our offering and then cost efficiency, that it’s not going to cost the farm.
The last one is we really try to quantify the benefit. We try to give very hard numbers. If you go from using manual accounting to ours you will save, on average, six hours a week. If you use our payment processing, our credit card processing versus sending a bill in the mail you’ll get paid three times faster. The combination of the story plus the hard numbers is where we’ve found that we get the most leverage to get someone to step away from the status quo.
If you’ve got a messaging that works, a formula that works, there’s no reason why you can’t keep using it. You just must make sure you’re partnering with your project management team so they’re continuing to evolve the product and remain competitive with whatever else is coming out in the marketplace.
Going back to product launches there’s a lot of companies that understood their customer need, they had a really good solution for that customer need, the sales team and the marketing team came up with a great message but then other solutions came out, other products came out that met that need better. It wasn’t that they weren’t solving the right problem, it wasn’t that the sales team didn’t have the right messaging, it’s just their proof point became less credible because other people were doing it better. That goes back to your point that you’ve got to have sales tied in close with the product management and the marketing team.
This storytelling or messaging framework is designed to convince customers, why change? We call it the why change story. You must add a word to that equation because it’s why change now and trying to drive urgency. “Yes, I understand I need to do this but I don’t have the time to pay attention right now. Why should I go through the pain of doing what you’re telling me to do right now?”
Going back to our sales process. In the conversation that we have with the small business, if we do it right we’ve identified problems they’re facing. “Hey I don’t have enough cash flow to pay my payroll this month.” Or, “I have to pay my taxes and I don’t understand my books and I’m worried that I’m going to get penalized by the government.” If you know what problem they’re facing then tie your offering to solving that problem and if they believe then it’s, “Why would you wait? The longer you wait the longer you’re going to have this problem.”
It’s almost the lack of a negative. “Why would you want to keep yourself in this tough situation for another month, even another week? Buy our solution, buy our offerings and you’re going to be at a better place really quickly.” Again, tie it back to the problems they’re facing that’s keeping them from doing what they really want, whether it’s running a small business or building microprocessors, they want to focus on what they love, not their problems. That usually is what’s helped us get people to get off the dime now versus putting it off for another two months.
Greg Response: You and your company are such a great example of the alignment between sales, product, and marketing. I just asked you, “Why change now?” Tell me your urgency based question, why change now? Right off the cuff, with no prep whatsoever, you cited monthly payroll and taxes. Those are two things that will create urgency in anybody. If I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make monthly payroll and you had a solution for that I’m going to get off my you-know-what and do something about it.
This segment reminds us that people make a purchase decision based on emotion and justify the purchase based on logic. Storytelling in all its flavors and forms is a great way to connect emotionally with customers and prospects. Keep that in mind as you think about messaging around product launches.
The save time story, which seems a universal story but applied uniquely to the needs of your buyers through your four-step sales process. It just creates urgency and helps your sales team. These best practices around your version of your storytelling delivery approach, how do you publish those to the sales people and make sure that they’re trained on them?
Yes. Training is one of those things that’s tough and I wouldn’t say that we’ve completely cracked the nut. We do it a couple of different ways. When we have a new hire, class come in we train them on the sales process, how to use stories, we train them on the product.
When there’s new product launches we also do that. What we’ve learned is that as people are in their roles over time they don’t always follow those best practices as consistently and they start to wander. You call it message distortion, I might call it sales process distortion. Instead of pulling people back off the floor or off a plane and sitting in days and days of training, we’ve started to move to what we call bit-sized chunks of training. It’s mostly through online. Ten, fifteen-minute training sessions that will walk them through a reinforcement of the sales process or some new features that are being released on one of our offerings and then at the end of it there’ll be some questions and answers that they must go through to make sure that they absorb the content.
These bit-sized chunks of training content, which you’re distributing online. Is this video content? Is this demo content? All the above?
All the above. It really depends on what your trying to train them on. If it’s a new product launch listing out a few features is helpful but then showing them a video of the actual product and how that feature works is a lot more impactful. For that case, we’d want to use video. As a side, not we really try to get our employees into and using our offerings so that they can come across as an expert on the products. Therefore, that they’re more trusted by the small business owner, by the customer, when they make recommendations.
My last question for you. We’ve talked a lot about training in this segment. I want to talk about coaching and to me coaching and training is different. For the messaging to be reinforced and for the sales people to acquire mastery of it and the ability to deliver it, I believe that the sales manager must be a great coach. Do you share that belief and if so what is your coaching process?
Agree 100%. First and foremost, you got to make sure that your coaches have the time to spend with their sales team. We’ve tried different manager to front line sales consultant ratios and we went too thin at one time and realized that that didn’t give the coaches enough time and then pulled it back.
We do training to coach the coaches. They spend a lot of time listening in and sitting with the front-line sales consultants and then afterwards we’ll debrief and give them feedback. We also have something that we call a monthly check-in. A lot of companies will do a performance review once or twice a year and we realized that just wasn’t enough. Ours we’ve moved to a year-round once a month you do a thirty or forty-five-minute check-in versus a twice a year two hour. That has been received incredibly well by our sales force and it seems to be resulting in better sales processes, better adherents to our best practices, and bottom line sales.
To go deeper, download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017. Turn to page 143 of the PDF to evaluate your readiness for the next Product Launch.